Try this Quick Way to Snap out of a Bad Mood
When you’re in a bad mood, it can color your every interpretation of the events going on around you. Even something that should cheer you up, such as having made the perfect smoothie, can become a source of annoyance and frustration. You’d rather have a full plate of actual food, but for health reasons, that’s not an option. The next thing you know, your mind has wandered off to daydreaming about what you’d rather be eating, only reinforcing your anger at being forced to stick to this diet.
As it turns out, mind-wandering that veers toward the negative pole of emotions may be linked to depressive disorders, at least when this happens on a steady basis. According to University of Groningen’s Marlijn Besten and colleagues (2023), there is “a direct relation between mind-wandering and mood” (p. 2).
Prior research has shown that people who are vulnerable to clinically diagnosed depressive disorders can be particularly sensitive to experimental situations that induce negative emotions, such as watching a sad video. People who are not clinically depressed do not show this effect; what’s more, they can be easily cheered up with a positive mood induction.
Mind-Wandering and Mood
Part of the reason that mind-wandering can relate to mood is that, when you’re bored, your mind can either go to a happy or unhappy place. People prone to depression send their minds into the unhappy places in which they can’t stop thinking about bad things. Known as rumination, the individual’s thoughts become “sticky” (they won’t go away), occur frequently, focus on the past, and emphasize what the individual has done wrong.
Earlier research was based on the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART). Elegantly simple, the SART presents people with a long and very boring task and then probes to see if a participant’s mind wanders as the task proceeds. The U. Groningen researchers adapted the SART to test their proposal that mind-wandering can be put to positive or negative use depending on the mood that they induce in their participants before they begin the SART.
Testing Mood Induction’s Effect on Mind-Wandering
Beginning with a screening sample of 249 undergraduates, the U. Groningen researchers narrowed their final sample to 82, 42 of whom had high scores on the personality trait of neuroticism and the tendency to worry, and 40 low on both measures. These groups were then subdivided randomly into two interventions- one to induce positive and the other negative moods.
The SART as adapted here consisted of having participants watch words presented to them and to push a button if a word was in lower-case letters (the “go” task) and not push a button if the word was in upper-case letters (the “no-go” task). There were more no-go’s than go’s, which only added to the level of boredom. Imagine yourself in this situation and you can see how it could easily lead your mind to drift away from the task.
Taking advantage of the real-time data offered by the SART, the authors probed into how participants were feeling at various points during the task. To be considered ruminative, the thoughts had to be “sticky,” negative, past- and self-related.
The authors induced mood in the positive intervention group with a task known as “positive fantasizing.” Participants first endorsed statements relating to “dysfunctional attitudes” (such as “people will think less of me if I make a mistake”) and others more positive in tone (“people still like me, even if I make many mistakes”). For the induction, the researchers asked participants to extract one “positive life rule” and to fantasize about an experience in a “dreamworld” for 10 minutes.
The negative mood induction presented participants with what’s known to be a highly stressful experience, that of giving a publicly-presented 5 minute speech to a “judge” whose expression remained neutral throughout the speech. The inherent stress in this situation should be obvious to anyone who’s had to do something important in front of a group who gave no feedback.
Turning to the findings, the authors indeed supported their prediction that people susceptible to worry would engage in more off-task thinking of a negative nature following the stressful mood induction. The positive mood induction, by contrast, produced fewer off-task thoughts, even for people high In the potential for negative affect (neuroticism and worry). This finding implies, as the authors note, that “stress-induced negative thinking underlying vulnerability for depression could be partially countered by fantasizing” (p. 1).
Turning Your Own Mood Around
The impressive findings from this innovative study have real practical value in anyone’s life, even if you do not have diagnosed depression. If all it takes is 10 minutes of daydreaming about something good that’s happened to you to induce brighter thoughts about yourself and the future, why not give it a try?
The next time you find your thoughts looming toward life’s less cheerful side, stop in your tracks. Take a breather and let your mind wander toward the times when things went well. They don’t have to have been ideal, because this creates only more negativity. In the intervention used in the U. Groningen study, participants chose realistic versions of their “life rule,” adding to this, thoughts of practical ways they could get to that point.
Thus, looking at the idea that people think less of you when you make mistakes, flip this around to the positive life rule that people will accept you along with your flaws. If you’re not sure how to make yourself believe this, give yourself an exercise in which you imagine making a mistake and visualizing that someone else doesn’t mind, or doesn’t even notice.
To sum up, a bad mood can be hard to shake off, especially if it tends to hang around with you longer than you would like. By imagining better times, along with ways to bring them about in reality, you’ll not only snap that bad mood but turn it into greater self-acceptance and happiness.